By PATRICK LEARY
College Contributor Network
The American Ryder Cup team, entering Gleneagles this weekend as a heavy underdog, will need every break it can get to bring the trophy back to the States. It may have a major one in a controversy between two of Team Europe's best players.
That stroke of luck comes in the form of a strained partnership between one of Europe's toughest two-man teams, the Northern Irish duo of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. The world No. 1 is suing his mentor McDowell's (and McIlroy's former) management company.
At the heart of the lawsuit, McIlroy is claiming he received "markedly inferior" treatment to McDowell from the management company, Horizon Sports Management, according to the Irish Independent. Such mistreatment included allegedly making McIlroy pay the agency a higher commission for his tournament earnings and making McDowell a shareholder in the company.
Marketing director Conor Ridge denies McIlroy was treated unfairly. On top of that, he claims that McIlroy intentionally filed the lawsuit last fall, around the time of McDowell's wedding to American Kristin Stape, which he knew the marketing team would want to attend. Allegedly, McIlroy referred to McDowell's wedding as "D-Day" in email exchanges with his legal team.
McIlroy countered by saying he pushed the lawsuit through during a "simple gap" in his schedule.
The potential fallout from this situation could give the Americans an advantage.
On one hand, McIlroy is, bar none, the best player in the world today. He won the last two majors of the PGA season, the British Open and PGA Championship, finished third in the FedExCup standings and has won four majors by the age of 25. He has an impressive 4-3-2 record in his first two Ryder Cups.
While McIlroy is the better player, McDowell may be more important to the team. He is just 5-5-2 in three Ryder Cups, but went 2-1-1 in Europe's rough 2008 loss and clinched the cup for his team in 2010. His high-energy style of play and experience makes him a leader on and off the course for the squad.
More importantly, McIlroy and McDowell have played together three times in each of the last two cups, going 2-3-1 and playing to the 18th hole in two of those losses. While the stats don't show them as a very successful partnership, Europe's best player losing his most comfortable partnership is undoubtedly cause for some concern.
Despite the clear division between the golfers, European captain Paul McGinley has insisted that the two will play together on the first day of the tournament Friday.
"It's not an issue, and it's not been an issue for me in terms of Ryder Cup captaincy since these court proceedings started," McGinley said at a Monday press conference. "Both of them have assured me all along that there are no issues, and that's the way I've always seen it. Whether they come together or not is another story."
McDowell also views the rift as a non-issue.
"Who wouldn't want to team up with the guy who has played the best golf all summer?" McDowell said. "There would be a queue out of the door of players wanting to partner [with] Rory, and absolutely I would be among them."
Regardless of what Team Europe says publicly, the Americans have to feel that they have an advantage from a chemistry standpoint. In a tournament where teamwork and camaraderie are so vital, that could be the most important advantage of all.
Patrick Leary is a senior at Marquette University. He thinks Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher on God's green earth. Follow him on Twitter: @patrickkleary
By PATRICK LEARY